FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has not had much trouble stopping the run this season.
Only two players have rushed for more than 100 yards on the Razorbacks, with one of those being Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. In fact, Arkansas ranks fifth in the SEC in rushing defense behind Alabama, LSU, Florida and South Carolina, but Tulsa (7-1) is ranked ninth in the country running the ball and will likely continue to emphasize the ground game on Saturday.
“They’re averaging 248 yards rushing and it’s going to be a big challenge for our guys,” Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said. “But we’ve got to do a good job on the pass, too. A lot of times when you sit there and try to focus so much on stopping the run — this is a running team — then they have a breakout game throwing the football. That’s another thing we can’t allow them to do because they do throw it enough and they throw it well enough to have a breakout game in the pass.
“We’ve always talked about stopping the run, but it’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
The Golden Hurricane uses three running backs regularly and the trio have accounted for 1,704 yards and 23 touchdowns this season. Ja’Terian Douglas and Trey Watts are a flashy duo, averaging a combined 7.4 yards per carry, while Alex Singleton is a between-the-tackles bruiser who has scored 15 touchdowns this year.
“They have three running backs that all split carries and can all run the ball really well,” Arkansas safety Ross Rasner said. “They have one who kind of looks like Jerome Bettis. He wears No. 8 and he’s about 6-foot-1, 260 (pounds). Their offensive line is really physical, so we’ll have a big challenge this week.”
Arkansas has allowed only one running back to rush for 100 yards this season, but stopping the pass has been a constant struggle for the Razorbacks. Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison rushed for 118 yards against the Razorbacks, but it did not come easy as he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry and was overshadowed by a 397-yard, five-touchdown passing performance by quarterback Gary Nova. Rasner said Tulsa quarterback Cody Green, who is returning from a shoulder injury, has the ability to air it out, but the defensive focus remains the same.
“Obviously, the first thing we focus on is stopping the run first and making teams one-dimensional and I feel like Tulsa can do both, but their rushing attack is what gets them going and we realize that as a defense,” he said. “We have to stop them first and foremost on the ground and make them into a one-dimensional team.”
Perhaps the Razorbacks’ pass defense woes have been exposed the most during two-minute situations. Jacksonville State, Rutgers and Ole Miss all scored with less than 1:30 before halftime against Arkansas and Louisiana-Monroe came close to doing the same, but a fourth-and-goal pass by Kolton Browning fell incomplete. Still, Browning led a game-tying drive in the fourth quarter while Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace also led a game-winning drive in Little Rock. Browning connected with Brent Leonard for a 23-yard touchdown pass with 47 seconds left in regulation before ultimately winning the game on a 16-yard score in overtime and Bryson Rose kicked a 31-yard field goal for Ole Miss to end regulation to beat Arkansas.
“Last week, we pressured (Ole Miss),” Haynes said. “We pressured them in that last two minutes and then the pressure didn’t get there and the guy didn’t make a play. So we’re going to continue to work on it. We’re going to continue to get better at it. But based off of what we need and what we see, we’ll either play zone, but you sit there and you play zone and they nickel and dime you and you get upset. You blitz and you don’t. We’re going to continue to mix it up. We’ve just got to continue to get better at it.”
The Razorbacks will have a pass-rusher back when they play the Golden Hurricane. Haynes said defensive tackle D.D. Jones will be back this week “for sure” after missing the previous two games. Jones has 13 tackles on the season and is tied for a team-high four pass breakups.